Streams

Report Captures Closing Schools' Final Year

Wednesday, February 01, 2012 - 06:27 PM

The debate over how New York City closes its failing schools has long existed between two poles: those who claim that the slow drawdown of teachers and course offerings hurts the students who remain, and those who maintain that the decreasing enrollment allows for smaller class sizes and more personal attention.

A report released on Wednesday by the city’s Education Department will not change the contours of that debate. But it does shed some light on what becomes of the students left after a school begins to close down.

Four city high schools shut their doors in summer 2011, after graduating an average of 58 percent of the remaining students, according to the department’s report. It was issued in response to a law requiring the city to report annually on the performance of students in the final year of a school’s closing.

After these schools began closing — losing a grade level each year while ceasing to admit new students — they typically raised their graduation rates. Canarsie High School in Brooklyn, for instance, graduated about 40 percent of its final class of 358 students in 2011, an improvement over its 2008 graduation rate of 33 percent.

This uptick in graduation rates in the final hour is heartening to city education officials, who say that students in these schools are not warehoused or deprived of the classes they need to earn a diploma.

“A phaseout can be difficult for schools, and this data shows our commitment to supporting students throughout the process so they can graduate on time or transfer to a school of their choice,” a department spokesman, Matthew Mittenthal, said.
But the statistics remain grim.

Of the 569 students who attended the four closing high schools during the 2010-11 school year, about 47 percent graduated with local diplomas or higher, and 22 percent dropped out or were discharged. Most of those students had grade-point averages below 65 and, though they were warned by city officials that their schools were failing, a vast majority chose to stay until the schools’ doors shut for good.

Of those who transferred to other schools, a majority landed in schools with progress report grades of C or lower, exchanging one underperforming school for another that may have already been floundering.

Critics of the city’s multiyear process of closing schools have pointed to the more qualitative elements of students’ experience, claiming that high school as most people know it — a time of after-school clubs and elective classes — essentially disappears by the time a closing school’s freshmen have become seniors.

Instead, the final year of a school’s life is a hectic scramble to draw up contingency plans for students who are unlikely to graduate by August. Some are sent to young adults borough centers, where they can take classes that they failed in the past and that are no longer offered by their closing schools, while others move to transfer schools.

“By senior year they should have all of their Regents passed and be on track to get all of their credits, and maybe a quarter of our students have that right now,” said the principal of a high school that is phasing out. "It’s scary, and we’re really worried about our kids."

The city’s report also examined the 11 elementary and middle schools that closed in 2011 and found that of the 1,425 students who were enrolled, 85 percent were promoted to the next grade and continued on to another city school.


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